We recently took a trip out to Brenham, TX to visit Shirttail Creek Farm, and as someone who hasn’t visited a farm since childhood, this was quite the experience! To see first-hand where my food comes from and gaining a greater understanding of what the process looks like, I was left with a great deal of gratitude for all farmers, ranchers and producers that follow regenerative and sustainable practices. Their commitment to make a difference in the food community is admirable.
We were lucky enough to spend the morning with Sam and Carolyn Moffett, owners of Shirttail Creek Farm, and as Sam showed us around, we learned about how they got started in farming and what their daily life looks like.
Four years ago, Sam and Carolyn set out on a mission to fulfill something deeper. At the time, they lived in Central Austin both working in digital advertising and had two young children. They had a beautiful life in Austin, but realized the path they were on wasn’t checking their boxes and wasn’t going to lead to living a meaningful and fulfilling life. They talked about living on a farm for years and decided before their kids were in elementary school, they would do it.
After visiting Callahan’s General Store one Saturday afternoon, Carolyn looked at Sam and said, “I think I’m ready to do the farm thing.” Four months later they moved to Shirttail Creek Farm and never looked back. It started off small, with the idea to sustainably raise cattle, but Sam quickly saw the potential in raising hens and the volume of eggs that they could produce – so they went for it! When spending time with Sam, you’ll quickly learn how much he and Carolyn and their children care for the animals and the land. The kids couldn’t wait to show us the “chicken hospital” they had on the second floor of their home where they were tending to a few baby hens that needed some extra attention. You’ll also realize that Sam and Carolyn aren’t afraid to go all in: back in 2017, they knew if they were going to make this farm thing work, they would have to commit to it entirely. And they have!
Over the past four years their operation has grown to include 250 acres, 100 cows and 4,500 hens, all sustainably raised and loved on everyday. Since day one they’ve used holistic management and regenerative farming practices which among other things, reverses climate change by rebuilding soil and organic matter, and restores degraded soil biodiversity which ensures the longevity of the land. It all starts with a combination of grasses – oat, rye, clover, sorcum sudan and sunn hemp, to name a few. Once the grasses are lush, they section off the field into smaller enclosures or paddocks, and all of their cows graze on that section for one day. The following day they get moved to the next section, and so on. This type of grazing is beneficial for a few reasons:
- The cows don’t get picky! If they were to put the cows on a big open pasture, they would have so much to choose from and only eat what they liked. This forces them to eat what is available while allowing the grass to grow in the surrounding paddocks.
- More nutrients in the soil! Their waste holds a lot of nutrients that help the grass and the soil. By containing them by sections their waste is more concentrated in that area.
Because the cows are moved to a new paddock each day, they become very familiar and very comfortable with human interaction. We experienced this firsthand when Sam took us out in the middle of the pasture where we were curiously and calmly greeted by the herd of cows. They quickly surrounded us, and what could have felt overwhelming and scary, was quite the opposite. Their symphony of moos and calm demeanor produced an incredibly peaceful and quite playful moment. This behavior is a testament to their low stress handling, and the amount of love and care they’re shown daily. Their familiarity with people as they’re being prepared for processing allows them to remain calm, reducing their stress, fear and adrenaline levels. The reality is that this herd of cows will be harvested to feed the community. While facing such a reality can be unsettling, this learning experience about Shirttail Creek’s approach to animal husbandry and humane farming practices for reducing stress was relieving.
Shirttail Creek is also home to happy hens who live a relaxed life in a natural environment, spending their days foraging for bugs and seeds. To ensure their hens have the proper nutrition, their diet is supplemented with a nutrient-dense, custom milled feed that includes a mix of vitamins, minerals and probiotics. Their nutritious lifestyle and freedom to roam open pastures keep them happy, healthy and producing 5,000 high quality eggs a day during peak season. Much like the cows getting moved frequently to ensure fresh forage and a clean environment, the hens get moved every week. The egg operation has scaled quickly over the years from a time when Sam and Carolyn hand-washed eggs in their kitchen every night, to washing and processing eggs with the help of the Egg Washer 3000!
Their hard work is sure paying off as Shirttail Creek eggs have quite the cult following. As soon as you crack one open you know where it’s from. The deep orange yolk and silky-smooth texture have created lifelong fans across Texas – us at Farmhouse, included!
What started out as a mission to fulfill something deeper four years ago has turned into a true labor of love. When we asked Sam what his favorite part of this is, he said “watching the grass grow, and then watching the cows eat it.”